Friday, February 27, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Are We Protesting Ourselves?

How much of the Tea Party protests are directed towards our government for their bloated and dangerous "stimulus" bill, and how much are directed towards our fellow Americans; you know, the ones who decided to live a Lexus lifestyle on a Kia salary?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The New Face of Protesting

This is just sad.

At the same time, even these pathetic excuses for Americans have their own list of (idiotic) demands, which is more than the Tea Party movement can say.

I don't mean to be too critical of the movement, because it is encouraging. It's also going to be a wasted opportunity if it doesn't start to coalesce around some remedies soon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Liberty Defined

In the last post of any substance, Junyo commented:

"What form does "liberty" take? Are we expecting to come out of some protests with an end to the Drug War, the full attainment of the right to keep and bear arms, decriminalization of whatever acts of commerce two adults consensually agree to (my personal definition)? Or are we defining liberty as how things were 100 days ago? Total replacement of the government? Recouping unspent "stimulus" funds, getting the government out of the real estate business, and providing real stimulus via tax relief for the responsible taxpayers/home owners/businesspeople? "If you're looking for the answer then you've gotta ask the question..." "Liberty" is a lofty goal, but for effective action, some vague agreement about what the deliverables and criteria are is a practical necessity."

This is what happens when we lose respect for the power of words. They become gibberish and malleable, able to mean whatever we want. Liberty has a meaning, and a very precise one at that.

The opposite of liberty is slavery. What ultimately defines slavery? It is not the lash of the whip or cruel torture. Slavery has existed in societies where the human chattel were treated very well. It didn't matter; they were still slaves. Slavery is the presence of a Master or Masters. Liberty, therefore, is the absence of a Master.

I know, I know. It's not like the spending bill is the first time that the Federal government has exerted power of us. We know the Federal government is in charge. That argument was decided back in 1787. And it's not like we can be without some form of government holding the position of ultimate authority. The men who created this nation knew that too. Here's Thomas Jefferson (with the authority of the full Continental Congress) on the reason why we have government:

We hold these truths to be self evident; That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men,

Government exists to secure our rights. If we could secure them as individuals, we wouldn't have a need for government. But since we can't, we give the authority to the Federal government. We have our shackles, but they're pretty loose, or at least they were.

What we're protesting is the fact that that the shackles just got a lot tighter, and if we continue on our present course, they will become tighter still. We want our liberty back.

Of course, the corollary to wanting our liberty back is the fact that in order to get it, we're going to have to become a more virtuous society, but that's probably another post entirely.

Another Musical Interlude

I'm working on a couple of longer pieces, but in the meantime, here's another Tea Party Theme Song candidate.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Quest, But Close

First of all, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Professor Glenn Reynolds for the recent link from Instapundit. I am honored and grateful that he found my contributions to the Great Discussion worthy of noting.

Secondly, thank you for taking your time to read what I'm writing. If you like what you're reading, I hope you'll take the time to actually forward a link on to your family and friends. I'm working on a theory that email forwards, not blogs themselves, are actually the new form of pamphleteering.

Finally, I think we're getting closer to figuring out what these protests are all about. At Instapundit, Professor Reynolds links to a post that says the Chicago Tea Party is a quest for our nation's soul.

I'd say that's close, but lacking a cigar. Does this feel like a quest to you? Like we're going to strap on our armor and go slay a dragon? It doesn't feel like that to me. To me it feels like any minute I could get sucker punched in the stomach, kicked in the head, and brought to my knees. This isn't a quest, this is a fight.

And what are we fighting for? The stimulus is signed. The governors, most of them anyway, are going to take the money. Yet still we gather, and the movement is gathering steam. We know what we're protesting against, but it almost feels like we can't quite agree on what we're advocating. It's on the tip of our tongue, but we're unable to recall it. It's a word we use a lot, but we rarely truly think about.

The word we're looking for is "liberty."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Act Worthy Of Yourselves

Across the country, the "Tea Party" movement is spreading. Anti-stimulus protests in Arizona, Washington State, Kansas, Georgia, and elsewhere are popping up, and of course CNBC's Rick Santelli has become an instant folk hero after calling for a Chicago Tea Party. But if we're going to compare our actions to those brave Bostonians of 1773, we should really take a look at what their protest meant, and what happened afterwards. To simply compare ourselves to those men and women, without truly understanding what they did, at the least cheapens our shared history and could lead to consusion over the motives of this new "Tea Party" movement.

The decision to dump 45 tons of tea into Boston Harbor wasn't made at the spur of the moment. It had been carefully discussed and planned by the leaders of Boston's patriot community. They knew exactly what they were doing when they boarded those three ships and began breaking open the heavy chests filled with tea from the East India Trading Company. They were committing an act of insurrection, not political theater.

Let's back up for a second. In colonial America, there were a lot of tea drinkers, but many of them bought smuggled tea. The reason was simple: it was cheaper. There was already an import duty on British tea which made it more expensive than the Dutch tea many merchants (including John Hancock) smuggled in to the colonies. In April of 1773 Parliament tried to rectify this by passing the Tea Act. The legislation granted a monopoly of the North American market to the East India Trading Company in order to try and keep the company from economic collapse. At the same time, Parliament imposed a new tax on tea, but one that would be paid in London as a surcharge. The Americans would actually see lower prices on tea, but the tea they purchased would already come pre-taxed. Historian Benson Bobrick says it "remains a noble feature of the whole confrontation that immediate economic interest did not determine [the colonists'] response."

And Americans didn't take the bribe of lower tea in exchange for accepting a revenue tax. In Philadelphia, ships bearing tea couldn't find anyone willing to lead the ships into harbor. In Charleston, South Carolina, the tea was off-loaded, but was stored in moldy warehouses where the product quickly rotted and became useless. In New York City, storms prevented the tea-laden ships from docking.

Boston, already filled with thousands of Regular troops sent to suppress the insurrection, would be a different story. Three ships eventually landed at Griffin's Wharf in Boston Harbor, but armed townspeople stood guard over the vessels to prevent the tea from being unloaded. Patriot leaders pleaded with the captains of the ships to sail away, but they refused to do so until their cargo was removed. Only when word was received that the tea was to be off-loaded and imported the very next morning did the patriots act.

The beginning of the Boston Tea Party took place at Fanueil Hall. The large meeting house was packed to the brim on the night of December 16th. When he was informed that the governor had rejected pleas for help from the colonists, Samuel Adams, a staunch supporter of the Patriot cause (and something of a rabble-rouser) cried out, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!"

That was the signal that triggered the Boston Tea Party. Two hundred men disguised themselves as best they could (it's interesting to point out that at the time, no one dared publicly admit they had taken part in the Tea Party) and set out to dump the tea, while thousands of residents watched from the streets.

It took them three hours. They did not burn down the ships, or vandalize them. They didn't steal any tea. They only destroyed it, and then marched off the boats and down the street with a fifer leading the way.

I mentioned earlier that His Majesty's troops were already in Boston that night. They did nothing to stop the Tea Party. Warships anchored less than a mile away did not fire upon the crowd, nor did they send a detachment of soldiers to try to break up the silent riot. Instead, the Crown's men exercised a great deal of restraint (no doubt thinking back to that March night just a few years earlier when troops opened fire on a crowd of belligerent Bostonians, killing five of them in what became known as the Boston Massacre). Still, Admiral John Montague couldn't help but open a window as the patriots passed by on the street below. "Boys, you have had a fine, pleasant evening for your Indian caper, haven't you? But mind, you have got to pay the fiddler yet."

They paid, all right. The reaction from Parliament and the Crown was swift and severe. Parliament quickly passed the Coercive Acts, better known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts. The response to the insurrectionist Tea Party was to try to break the will of the colonists. They shut down the port of Boston, revoked the charter of Massachusetts, removed any civilian governing authority and replaced it with Royal rule, and re-established the practice of quartering troops in civilian homes. Additionally, more than 5,000 more troops arrived to crack down on the rebellious Bostonians. Boston at the time was a city between 15,000 and 20,000, which meant that there was nearly one Regular for every adult male in the city. General Gage, the new military governor of Massachusetts, soon set out to confiscate gunpowder and arms stored in towns throughout the colony. Long before Lexington and Concord, Regular troops marched on the towns of Somerville (where they successfully removed the powder) and Salem (where they were forced to turn back by a crowd of civilians). Patriots responded by seizing the armed garrison at Portsmouth, Maine (then a part of Massachusetts) without firing a shot.

In short, the Boston Tea Party was an act of defiance and insurrection that set in motion a chain of events that led to armed rebellion against Parliament and the King. I wonder, do we really mean to compare ourselves to the men and women who, even at that early date, were ready to sacrifice their all for the cause of liberty?

It seems that what we're actually seeing now is a relatively low-key and sedate protest in relation to the audacious and incredible increase in government power. Frankly, the patriots who took part in the Boston Tea Party would probably call us cowards for not responding in a more full-throated manner.

I'm not objecting to the protests. Far from it in fact. I'll be at the protest in Washington, D.C. But I am not expecting anything other than street theater, or the political equivalent of clearing our throat rather than the yelling our politicians deserve to hear. I won't compare it to the Boston Tea Party, because there is no comparison. To claim otherwise is to both cheapen the actual protest by 200 Bostonians and their thousands of supporters, and to inflate the magnitude of our current actions.

I wonder, what are we expecting to achieve from these protests? Are we content to merely register our disapproval, or are we seeking to change what Congress and our president have done? If it is the former, I'm sure the politicians will note our objection, and wait for us to quiet down. If it is the latter, I fear our current protests are too scatter-shot to do any real good.

What is the target of our protest? Are we protesting the President and Congress for an act already passed, or are we petitioning our state and local governments to refuse to accept the stimulus money?

What do we do if these protests do not result in the change in policies we are asking for? What happens next?

Make no mistake, once a movement like this has begun, it will, sooner or later, have to answer these difficult questions or risk failure. Now is the seed-time of liberty, and the steps we take and the words we use will either be recalled triumphantly by our grandchildren, or seen as a sad charade conducted by children who could not muster the strength and conviction of their ancestors.

In 1775, just a few weeks before blood was spilled at Lexington Green, Dr. Joseph Warren addressed a crowd of Bostonians who had gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves. The faltering tongue of hoary age calls on you to support your country. The lisping infant raises its suppliant hands, imploring defence against the monster slavery. Your fathers look from their celestial seats with smiling approbation on their sons, who boldly stand forth in the cause of virtue; but sternly frown upon the inhuman miscreant, who, to secure the loaves and fishes to himself, would breed a serpent to destroy his children.

With all due respect to Dr. Warren, this is not your father's protest movement. This is your forefathers' protest. Act worthy of yourself.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Every Good Protest Deserves A Song

Back in 1768, John Dickinson penned the words to "The Liberty Song" as a protest of the Townshend Acts passed by Parliament. By our standards, the Acts weren't much, as long as you could ignore the whole "taxation without representation" problem. Luckily for us, our forefathers couldn't ignore that small detail.

In 1768, two years before the Boston Massacre, five years before the Boston Tea Party, seven years before Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, and eight years before the Declaration of Independence, "The Liberty Song" was one of the most popular songs in the land. Dickinson didn't have to write music for the tune. He simply borrowed the music to the British naval song "Heart of Oak" and gave it a patriotic makeover with new words. The song went, in part:

Come join hand in hand brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonour America's name.

In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live,
Our purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, Steady.
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give.

Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear
Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;
Suns vainly will rise, Showers vainly descend,
If we are to drudge for what others shall spend.


Then join hand in hand brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so Righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For Heaven approves of each generous deed.

As applicable as those words may still be in 2009, I just don't see many Americans rallying around a sea chanty. I think the Save Our Nation movement needs a new protest song.

In the spirit of the vanguard of protestors in Seattle and Mesa, Arizona, and in the spirit of Rick Santelli's proposed Chicago Tea Party, I offer The Offspring's "Defy You" as the message the sons and daughters of Liberty need to send to those who would bankrupt our children in order to score cheap political points.

You want to send a message of opposition? Let's make this eight-year old song the most downloaded song on iTunes. An act of protest that costs less than a dollar, but would perhaps help our opponents realize just how many Americans are opposed to the destruction of the ideals of our Republic.

An American Plea

I Is this what it felt like to live in the colonies of America in the summer of 1765? Back then, Parliament had just passed the Stamp Act, which taxed the colonists for the first time. The government was adopting bold new powers that would affect every American, and America responded.

Patrick Henry was 29 years old in 1765. A freshman legislator in Virginia, he took to the floor of the House of Burgesses just nine days into his term and denounced the Stamp Act with such passion and fervor that the Speaker, John Robinson, pounded his gavel and cried “Treason”! Robinson was joined by other members of the House in accusing Henry of the vile crime of treason, but Henry’s resolves against taxation actually passed the House.

That story leads me to believe that we aren’t re-living history. When Congress passed the recent spending bill, the rhetoric on both sides was heated, to be sure. Still, neither side called the other treasonous. The Democrats who supported the bill were called misguided, the bill itself was called a measure that would bankrupt our children, but the legislators, we were told, were simply trying their best. On the Republican side, they were accused of obstinacy and partisanship, but their opposition wasn’t deemed treasonous.

Our current state is more perilous than that of the colonies in 1765, yet we seem too frightened to face the possibility that we are now called, as our forefathers were, to defend freedom with every bit of air in our lungs, every muscle and tendon of our body, and every measure of our honor. It is a terrifying proposition: the government of, for, and by the People isn’t listening to us, nor are they listening to the wise counsel of those who came before them. It is a duly elected government, but is it really “of the People” anymore?

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. The path we are forging is completely contrary to the ideals and principles of this great nation. The hero of the earlier anecdote, Patrick Henry, once said, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” Yet Congress just approved nearly 800,000,000,000 in spending without anybody being able to read the legislation. The transactions of our rulers were concealed from us. In that same speech, Henry said, “it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty?” No, it is not. We must recognize the truth of our situation, no matter how hard it is to do so.

Samuel Adams, another member of the Founding generation, once said, ““What property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?” We may have “consented” to this massive spending by electing our representatives, but how can our children, who will themselves be burdened by this overwhelming and crippling debt, have consented to the taking of their money? We are committing an act of treachery upon our children and grandchildren that would have ashamed our ancestors.

Those men and women, it must be noted, were not railing against “the British”. They were arguing against their own government, and the individuals who made up their government. They were not opposed to a Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister who pushed for taxation without representation. They were not opposed to the idea of Parliament, but the members of Parliament who voted in favor of taxing the colonies for revenue without consent of those being taxed. For more than a decade, they were fighting for their rights as Englishmen, not as free Americans. They weren’t yet arguing for independence, but for real hope and change in their own established government. Do we not possess that same inherent right?

In 1775, just weeks before civil unrest erupted into civil war at a small village called Lexington, a young doctor named Joseph Warren stood in front of a crowd of Bostonians. It was the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and the South Meeting House was crowded, not only with residents, but also with officers from His Majesty’s Army. They were given the best seats in the house that day, sitting just feet away from where Warren stood. Looking down from the lectern at the men he would soon face in armed combat, Warren spoke to them and the thousands of ordinary men and women, the Joe Six-Packs of their day, about the sacrifices their forefathers had made in order to establish a life free from tyranny.

“Even anarchy itself, that bugbear held up by the tools of power (though truly to be deprecated) is infinitely less dangerous to mankind than arbitrary government. Anarchy can be but of short duration; for when men are at liberty to pursue that course which is most conducive to their own happiness, they will soon come into it, and from the rudest state of nature, order and good government must soon arise. But tyranny, when once established, entails its curses on a nation to the latest period of time; unless some daring genius, inspired by heaven, shall, unappalled danger, bravely form and execute the arduous design of restoring liberty and life to his enslaved, murdered country.”

This country had not one daring genius in those days, but a whole host of men and women who were determined to fight for the liberty of themselves and their posterity. Warren himself lost his life a few months later at the Battle of Bunker Hill, leaving his four children orphans. With our population now more than 300 times that of our ancestors, imagine how many daring geniuses exist among us today!

We are not yet enslaved, though we have traveled a long way on the road to serfdom. We are not yet subsumed by a brave new world of collectivism. We still possess the means to fight, and yet I fear we lack the will to do so. I myself am too afraid to put my name to these words, because I have no idea what kind of backing this will receive. I am not worthy to compare myself to the least of the Founding generation, and yet I keep looking to them for guidance and inspiration. These men and women staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the idea that liberty was worth arguing for, worth defending, and eventually worth dying for if necessary. Has that idea truly died a quiet death without us noticing? Or may we, like good Dr. Warren, help nurse our country back to health?

I have recently seen talk of Revolution, which to me seems far too premature. Despite what most Americans seem to believe, the Revolution did not spontaneously begin with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. There was a reason why thousands of regular men felt compelled to stop their work, grab their musket, and march several miles to shoot at His Majesty’s troops. You don’t get that conviction over the course of a night, and we are far from that level of societal conviction.

Yet if history repeats itself, how far down the road to Revolution are we? John Adams said that the seeds of Revolution were first planted in 1750, when a preacher named Jonathan Mayhew delivered a sermon called “A Discourse on Unlimited Submission”. In it Mayhew argues that submission to arbitrary government or a government that does not listen to the People actually aids in the promotion of tyranny. To maintain the status quo, “would be to join with the sovereign in promoting the slavery and misery of that society, the welfare of which, we ourselves, as well as our sovereign, are indispensably obliged to secure and promote, as far as in us lies.” In other words, when the government begins to ignore the People, apathy is aiding and abetting the abuse of power. Have we even begun to recognize that basic concept?

How do the People begin to take the power back? First, we have to recognize that while revolution’s not the answer, the People (and that’s you and me) always retain the right of veto power. If it’s important enough, we can say no. At that point, it’s up to our Government to listen.

The fact is, our President has decided that his election was a mandate for this type of suicidal spending, despite the blatant break with the bedrock principles of liberty and freedom enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. So far, he has not shown he has been willing to listen. Therefore, we must become louder. We can do that in two ways; the first by growing our numbers, and secondly by maximizing the power of our own voice.

The internet is a wonderful conduit of communication, but it has replaced far too much of the face-to-face contact that we need with our friends and neighbors if we are to ever establish real opposition to the destructive policies we seek to challenge. We must re-establish those local bonds, forge local friendships and connections, and not rely so much on the internet, which, when the dominant means of communication, leads to impersonal and distant relationships. The patriots had newspapers and pamphlets to be sure, but equally as important were the Sons of Liberty chapters and other organizations that spread throughout the colonies.

Get together with your friends and neighbors one night a week and talk politics. Organize yourselves… pick one person to run for city council, or other local office and work for that candidate tirelessly. At the same time, use the internet to communicate and coordinate with others on a local, regional, and national basis. Use social networking sites to develop, not augment your existing social relationships. Establish a “Sons of Liberty”-type organization in your neighborhood, your town, your county, and state, but be sure to maintain the local and personal connection. Yes, it will occupy a lot of time. It may require you to stop watching as much television, or to not spend so much time on the computer. But that’s a small sacrifice for a much larger cause. If we do not do this now, the country we leave our children will be in many ways unrecognizable to the one we grew up in, and I don’t think we will like the changes.

Recognize that you will have many different ideas on many different social issues, but that is not important. The politics of Massachusetts were very different than the politics of Virginia, but the two states were stalwarts of resistance in the 1750’s and1760’s. You need not agree with everything your fellow patriots believe, as long as you all believe that continuing to allow these economic policies to go unchallenged would be an aiding and abetting of the murder of this still-great nation.

I am convinced that we need to have many more town hall meetings, though I confess to not knowing how best to accomplish such a task. Still, our elected federal representatives need to hear from us, and it’s far easier for them to come back home to us than it is for us to go them. Do we demand that Congress return home to hear from their constituents face-to-face before they vote on a bill with a price tag of more than 100,000,000,000? Would that have a greater effect on our officials than flooding their offices with phone calls and emails?

It may be that a majority of us lack the will to fight. We are a soft society these days, after all. However, we are not required to fight with arms. We are only required to speak louder than we have, and I believe that there are enough of us who have the will to speak. We have the will to govern our elected servants with the magnifying glass our ancestors used on their public officials. Politics is a conversation, and it’s time our officials remembered that We the People have a voice as well. We have the right to be heard, and our representatives have a duty to listen.